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Chapter IX - Hypnotism in Medicine
Hypnotism in Medicine -- Anesthesia -- Restoring the Use of
Muscles -- Hallucination -- Bad Habits.
Anaesthesia -- It is well known that hypnotism may be used to render
subjects insensible to pain. Thus numerous startling experiments are
performed in public, such as running hatpins through the cheeks or arms,
sewing the tongue to the ear, etc. The curious part of it is that the
insensibility may be confined to one spot only. Even persons who are not
wholly under hypnotic influence may have an arm or a leg, or any smaller
part rendered insensible by suggestion, so that no pain will be felt.
This has suggested the use of hypnotism in surgery in the place of
chloroform, ether, etc.
About the year 1860 some of the medical profession hoped that hypnotism
might come into general use for producing insensibility during surgical
operations. Dr. Guerineau in Paris reported the following successful
operation: The thigh of a patient was amputated. "After the operation,"
says the doctor, "I spoke to the patient and asked him how he felt. He
replied that he felt as if he were in heaven, and he seized hold of my
hand and kissed it. Turning to a medical student, he added: 'I was aware
of all that was being done to me, and the proof is that I knew my thigh
was cut off at the moment when you asked me if I felt any pain.'"
The writer who records this case continues: "This, however, was but a
transitory stage. It was soon recognized that a considerable time and a
good deal of preparation were necessary to induce the patients to sleep,
and medical men had recourse to a more rapid and certain method; that
is, chloroform. Thus the year 1860 saw the rise and fall of Braidism as
a means of surgical anaesthesia."
One of the most detailed cases of successful use of hypnotism as an
anaesthetic was presented to the Hypnotic Congress which met in 1889, by
Dr. Fort, professor of anatomy:
"On the 21st of October, 1887, a young Italian tradesman, aged twenty,
Jean M -- . came to me and asked me to take off a wen he had on his
forehead, a little above the right eyebrow. The tumor was about the size
of a walnut.
"I was reluctant to make use of chloroform, although the patient wished
it, and I tried a short hypnotic experiment. Finding that my patient was
easily hypnotizable, I promised to extract the tumor in a painless
manner and without the use of chloroform.
"The next day I placed him in a chair and induced sleep, by a fixed
gaze, in less than a minute. Two Italian physicians, Drs. Triani and
Colombo who were present during the operation, declared that the subject
lost all sensibility and that his muscles retained all the different
positions in which they were put exactly as in the cataleptic state. The
patient saw nothing, felt nothing, and heard nothing, his brain
remaining in communication only with me.
"As soon as we had ascertained that the patient was completely under the
influence of the hypnotic slumber, I said to him: 'You will sleep for a
quarter of an hour,' knowing that the operation would not last longer
than that; and he remained seated and perfectly motionless.
"I made a transversal incision two and a half inches long and removed
the tumor, which I took out whole. I then pinched the blood vessels with
a pair of Dr. Pean's hemostatic pincers, washed the wound and applied a
dressing, without making a single ligature. The patient was still
sleeping. To maintain the dressing in proper position, I fastened a
bandage around his head. While going through the operation I said to the
patient, 'Lower your head, raise your head, turn to the right, to the
left,' etc., and he obeyed like an automaton. When everything was
finished, I said to him, 'Now, wake up.'
"He then awoke, declared that he had felt nothing and did not suffer,
and he went away on foot, as if nothing had been done to him.
"Five days after the dressing was removed and the cicatrix was found
Hypnotism has been tried extensively for painless dentistry, but with
many cases of failure, which got into the courts and thoroughly
discredited the attempt except in very special cases.
Restoring the Use of Muscles -- There is no doubt that hypnotism may be
extremely useful in curing many disorders that are essentially nervous,
especially such cases as those in which a patient has a fixed idea that
something is the matter with him when he is not really affected. Cases
of that description are often extremely obstinate, and entirely
unaffected by the ordinary therapeutic means. Ordinary doctors abandon
the cases in despair, but some person who understands "mental
suggestion" (for instance, the Christian Science doctors) easily effects
a cure. If the regular physician were a student of hypnotism he would
know how to manage cases like that.
By way of illustration, we quote reports of two cases, one successful
and one unsuccessful. The following is from a report by one of the
physicians of the Charity hospital in Paris:
"Gabrielle C -- -- -- became a patient of mine toward the end of 1886. She
entered the Charity hospital to be under treatment for some accident
arising from pulmonary congestion, and while there was suddenly seized
with violent attacks of hystero-epilepsy, which first contracted both
legs, and finally reduced them to complete immobility.
"She had been in this state of absolute immobility for seven months and
I had vainly tried every therapeutic remedy usual in such cases. My
intention was first to restore the general constitution of the subject,
who was greatly weakened by her protracted stay in bed, and then, at the
end of a certain time, to have recourse to hypnotism, and at the
opportune moment suggest to her the idea of walking.
"The patient was hypnotized every morning, and the first degree (that of
lethargy), then the cataleptic, and finally the somnambulistic states
were produced. After a certain period of somnambulism she began to move,
and unconsciously took a few steps across the ward. Soon after it was
suggested -- the locomotor powers having recovered their physical
functions -- that she should walk when awake. This she was able to do, and
in some weeks the cure was complete. In this case, however, we had the
ingenious idea of changing her personality at the moment when we induced
her to walk. The patient fancied she was somebody else, and as such, and
in this roundabout manner, we satisfactorily attained the object
The following is Professor Delboeuf's account of Dr. Bernheim's mode of
suggestion at the hospital at Nancy. A robust old man of about seventy-
five years of age, paralyzed by sciatica, which caused him intense pain,
was brought in. "He could not put a foot to the ground without screaming
with pain. 'Lie down, my poor friend; I will soon relieve you.' Dr.
Bernheim says. 'That is impossible, doctor.' 'You will see.' 'Yes, we
shall see, but I tell you, we shall see nothing!' On hearing this answer
I thought suggestion will be of no use in this case. The old man looked
sullen and stubborn. Strangely enough, he soon went off to sleep, fell
into a state of catalepsy, and was insensible when pricked. But when
Monsieur Bernheim said to him, 'Now you can walk, he replied, 'No, I
cannot; you are telling me to do an impossible thing.' Although Monsieur
Bernheim failed in this instance, I could not but admire his skill.
After using every means of persuasion, insinuation and coaxing, he
suddenly took up an imperative tone, and in a sharp, abrupt voice that
did not admit a refusal, said: 'I tell you you can walk; get up.' 'Very
well,' replied the old follow; 'I must if you insist upon it.' And he
got out of bed. No sooner, however, had his foot touched the floor than
he screamed even louder than before. Monsieur Bernheim ordered him to
step out. 'You tell me to do what is impossible,' he again replied, and
he did not move. He had to be allowed to go to bed again, and the whole
time the experiment lasted he maintained an obstinate and ill-tempered
These two cases give an admirable picture of the cases that can be and
those that cannot be cured by hypnotism, or any other method of mental
Hallucination -- "Hallucinations," says a medical authority, "are very
common among those who are partially insane. They occur as a result of
fever and frequently accompany delirium. They result from an
impoverished condition of the blood, especially if it is due to
starvation, indigestion, and the use of drugs like belladonna,
hyoscyarnus, stramonium, opium, chloral, cannabis indica, and many more
that might be mentioned."
Large numbers of cases of attempted cure by hypnotism, successful and
unsuccessful, might be quoted. There is no doubt that in the lighter
forms of partial insanity, hypnotism may help many patients, though not
all; but when the disease of the brain has gone farther, especially when
a well developed lesion exists in the brain, mental treatment is of
little avail, even if it can be practiced at all.
A few general remarks by Dr. Bernheim will be interesting. Says he:
"The mode of suggestion should be varied and adapted to the special
suggestibility of the subject. A simple word does not always suffice in
impressing the idea upon the mind. It is sometimes necessary to reason,
to prove, to convince; in some cases to affirm decidedly, in others to
insinuate gently; for in the condition of sleep, just as in the waking
condition, the moral individuality of each subject persists according to
his character, his inclinations, his impressionability, etc. Hypnosis
does not run all subjects into a uniform mold, and make pure and simple
automatons out of them, moved solely by the will of the hypnotist; it
increases cerebral docility; it makes the automatic activity
preponderate over the will. But the latter persists to a certain degree;
the subject thinks, reasons, discusses, accepts more readily than in the
waking condition, but does not always accept, especially in the light
degrees of sleep. In these cases we must know the patient's character,
his particular psychical condition, in order to make an impression upon
Bad Habits -- The habit of the excessive use of alcoholic drinks,
morphine, tobacco, or the like, may often be decidedly helped by
hypnotism, if the patient wants to be helped. The method of operation is
simple. The operator hypnotizes the subject, and when he is in deep
sleep suggests that on awaking he will feel a deep disgust for the
article he is in the habit of taking, and if he takes it will be
affected by nausea, or other unpleasant symptoms. In most cases the
suggested result takes place, provided the subject can be hypnotized al
all; but unless the patient is himself anxious to break the habit fixed
upon him, the unpleasant effects soon wear off and he is as bad as ever.
Dr. Cocke treated a large number of cases, which he reports in detail in
his book on hypnotism. In a fair proportion of the cases he was
successful; in some cases completely so. In other cases he failed
entirely, owing to lack of moral stamina in the patient himself. His
conclusions seem to be that hypnotism may be made a very effective aid
to moral suasion, but after all, character is the chief force which
throws off such habits once they are fixed. The morphine habit is
usually the result of a doctor's prescription at some time, and it is
practiced more or less involuntarily. Such cases are often materially
helped by the proper suggestions.
The same is true of bad habits in children. The weak may be strengthened
by the stronger nature, and hypnotism may come in as an effective aid to
moral influence. Here again character is the deciding factor.
Dr. James R. Cocke devotes a considerable part of his book on
"Hypnotism" to the use of hypnotism in medical practice, and for further
interesting details the reader is referred to that able work.
Links to Additional Media for Complete Hypnotism: Mesmerism, Mind-Reading and Spiritualism by A. Alpheus such as audio and ebooks are located at the bottom of this web page.